1. Drink the Kool-Aid not the Water – Barcelona has numerous public water fountains and similar to Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain, legend has it that if you drink from one (the Font de Canaletes) you’ll develop a never ending love for Barcelona and will return again and again. We totally drank the water (but seriously, don’t drink very much. There’s a reason bottled water is cheap and plentiful there) and whether it’s the legend or the completely amazing nature of the city, I couldn’t say. But I will say I loved it. We all loved it. Barcelona has an easy beauty and restful vibe that permeates the city and it’s people. I joked early on that the city was designed to draw your eye up and away so that you stood open mouthed and ripe for pick-pocketing. I was only half kidding. There is so much detail, so many hidden gems, you could literally wander the same path every single day and see something new each time. Bring a camera and don’t be in a hurry.
2. Barcelona is about passion and excess – If enough is enough, than just a little more is how much you need. This applies to everything from architecture and food to the way people lived. It’s not exactly in a hedonistic way – more in a “why not enjoy life while you have it?” way. BCN residents think nothing at all of stopping mid-day to enjoy a long lunch with a friend, because why have friends if you can’t enjoy them? They embrace the sweet and rich foods, because why eat if you’re not going to enjoy it? They embellish EVERYTHING, because why look at something if it’s not beautiful?
3. Drink the xocolata – When Mighty arrived first for his brief solo stay in BCN he would. not. shut. up. about the hot chocolate. Seriously. Every conversation. And while as the wife, I can never admit he’s right about anything, I will say that he’s not wrong in his deep and passionate love for xocolata. It’s pretty much like drinking a melted candy bar. Not kidding.
See? You want some right now, don’t you?
4. All beaches are topless beaches – Especially the ones that are nude beaches, which, strictly speaking, could also be all of them. There’s no law against public nudity in BCN, but while toplessness at beaches was common we didn’t see anyone going full starkers. We did however see that nearly every woman; young, old, fat, thin, REALLY fat, really pregnant, possibly-Jesus’-grandma-old, big breasted, small breasted, fake breasted, and no breasted wore a bikini and more often than not only the bottom half. And you know what? No one cared. At all. In America we are taught that only bikini models deserve to wear bikinis and refreshingly this appears to be a strictly American hang-up. So buy the damn bathing suit and shut up about your thighs (or tummy, or stretch marks, or whatever you imagine is “wrong” with you. Because nothing is wrong with you except your perception of beauty).
5. Get lost – Right along with that stupid xocolata, Mighty spent an ungodly amount of time raving about the narrow and winding walkways that make up the Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter). There are some places in the world where, with a map and a sense of direction you might expect to find your way from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time with little fear of getting lost. This is not one of those places, and I am forced to agree that Mighty is again not wrong in saying that getting lost is at least half the fun. The Gòtic was one of the most amazing parts of Barcelona and maybe our trip thus far. Getting lost every day and finding new things to be delighted with was an eternal highlight.
6. Take the train somewhere – And make sure you get a window seat. We took the train to Madrid (which was hot, dirty, filled with aggressive beggars and basically made of Suck) and the ride was AMAZING. It was expensive (€120 each round trip) but the train itself was comfortable, the stations easy to navigate and the views unparalleled. We took the inland route to Madrid and passed everything from modern factories to centuries-old ruins, including one that looked like a Crusades-Era castle atop a hill. On the way back we traveled the lowland route and skirted the sea. Mighty HATES flying and we both remarked several times that we wished we could just take the train everywhere we had to travel.
7. Switching between two languages is hard – Adding two more will make you screw up ALL your words. Having spent a long time in the Southwest, you can’t help but pick up a healthy amount of Spanish. I was pretty confident heading into Spain with my ability to at least be understood. BUT. We went to France first. My French? VERY BAD. But I tried and worked hard at adding key phrases and using them consistently, teaching my brain to switch ‘off’ from English. That meant, however, that when we went from London to Spain and it was time to switch off English to Spanish, my brain was all “BUT NO. When we don’t say “thank you” we say “Merci”! Add in the fact that Barcelona is very proud of it’s Catalan heritage and I was screwing up not just my Spanish, but also Catalan. Thankfully, they are used to tourists and would laugh along with me every time I said “Merci! I mean Gracias!” Added hand gestures got me through when my limited supply of Spanish failed, which was lucky since on our final Sunday the ATM at the bank in our building ate my card. As it happens “ATM..uh…SCHWOOP!” with a sucking noise is universal.
8. Go to church – Actually go to lots of churches. The Barcelona Cathedral (The Cathedral of Santa Cruz and Santa Eulalia) is a stunning bit of architecture with a THOUSAND YEAR OLD heart and a wildly embellished neo-Gothic facade. The gorgeous saint’s shrines, the center courtyard’s fountain and the crypt of St. Eulalia are all worth the (free!) admission. Be aware that since it is still an active church you will be expected to be dressed modestly – the guards won’t hesitate to turn you away for tank tops or too short shorts and skirts. This rule applies to both men and women. Should you find yourself afoul of the rules, there is almost always someone selling inexpensive scarves near the main entrance that will get you through the doors. As for arguably the most famous of the churches, La Sagrada Familia…well. I could post about ten thousand words (and pictures) about La Sagrada. Its design will leave you speechless from any angle you view it. My favourite element was the canopy of trees that form the pillars and roof of the main chapel. The lines here are BRUTAL though. Save yourself hours of standing in the queue that wraps around the block and buy your tickets on line in advance. Actually, do that with ANYTHING Gaudi related, as there will almost always be a several hour wait for admission if you’re lucky enough to get in that day at all!
9. Empty your pockets – Someone else needs that penny more than you do. Everyone has a big jar of change somewhere that seems to multiply in the dark, producing baby pennies at a rate that defies logic. When, as we do, you travel between countries with different currency hauling around a bunch of change is just silly. In Barcelona, knowing that our next two stops wouldn’t be Euro-based, we made a point of putting aside small change and on our last day we took a quart-sized baggie full of money and gave it to a variety of needy folks and the vast proportion of it to the pan handler that moved us the most. It wasn’t much, but it, along with a bottle of water, clearly made his day. Remembering to be generous is important.
10. No one will judge your noisy baby – Except the bitchy lady from California two seats ahead. Everywhere we went, no matter what the Captain’s attitude was that day we were met with big smiles and lots of attention. When he had a melt down in a cafe waiting for his food? Two waitresses came over to chat with him. When he was yelling (because who knows why?!) the man behind the counter hooted back at him until they were both in giggles. When, at the beach he started cautiously and then not, tossing handfuls of sand back into the ocean, spraying passersby with damp blobs, the grandmas seated behind us cheerfully pushed more sand his way to help in his endeavor to return the beach to the sea. But when, on the train, he started to sob in exhaustion the bitchy American two rows in front of us STOOD UP, glared and then loudly told her partner she didn’t understand why people let their children cry in public, meanwhile the rest of the train made sympathetic faces of acknowledgment that lacked judgement and implied that they knew no matter how much you might want to right then, you just can’t throw the baby from the train. In short, Americans? Don’t be assholes because more people than you’d think know what you’re saying. And we’re totally judging you right back.